Almost 15,000 fans filled Fratton Park on a bitterly cold Tuesday night to watch Portsmouth take on Crystal Palace. Other than Dave Kitson coming in for Kelvin Etuhu, Portsmouth were unchanged from the team that took a late 4-3 victory against Doncaster on Saturday.
Portsmouth needed to win if they were to have any chance of staying in the Championship as well as needing West Ham to contain Bristol City. A Bristol City win would see Pompey’s chances of survival dashed.
It was clear from kick-off that this was going to be an end-to-end affair; whilst Pompey had to win, Crystal Palace had nothing to lose. Shots at both ends went close and none closer than Scott Allan’s ‘was-it-a-cross-or-was-it-a-shot’ attempt from near the corner flag, which dipped just under the cross bar forcing a save from Julian Speroni in the Palace goal.
A 30 yard thunderbolt shot by Luke Varney also worried the Palace keeper as he watched it career off his far post.
There were chances for Palace too. Willfried Zaha worried Jamie Ashdown’s goal on a number of occasions and Antonio Pedroza should probably have done better with a chance which saw him in front of goal with only the keeper to beat. The resulting shot landed somewhere in the back rows of the Milton End, much to the delight of the Fratton faithful.
The first goal came in the 31st minute, when Scott Allan took a shot from 30 yards out. The ball took a huge deflection off Palace defender, Nathaniel Clyne, which wrong-footed the keeper, Speroni, and sent the ball sailing into the top corner. The Fratton choir responded with a somewhat optimistic chant of “we are staying up“.
The remainder of the half continued in the same vein with both teams attacking well but neither able to convert their chances. Elsewhere in the Championship, West Ham and Bristol City were drawing, which was helping to keep Pompey’s dreams of survival alive.
Crunching tackles from both teams showed that this was a game that both wanted to win and chants of “that’s why you’re going down” after David Norris’ misplaced pass were proof that Crystal Palace weren’t showing any sympathy to struggling Portsmouth.
The away side started the second half the stronger, with Pedroza’s fizzing shot beating Jamie Ashdown, but not the post, and Willfried Zaha lashing the rebound into the side-netting.
It was a lucky break for Portsmouth that saw them earn themselves a corner, which was whipped in by Scott Allan for a far post headed goal by Greg Halford, for a 2-0 lead against the run of play.
Palace continued to put the pressure on, with Pompey’s chances coming on the break. There was some fantastic last ditch defending from Portsmouth captain, Jason Pearce, to keep Crystal Palace at bay. But a clumsy challenge from Luke Varney on Zaha inside the penalty box gifted Palace their way back into the game.
Darren Ambrose converted the spot-kick, in the 71st minute, creating a very nervy twenty minutes for the struggling Pompey team. Fratton Park erupted in support for their team, which they needed as they fought against a Crystal Palace who seemed to have been revived by their goal.
The game opened right up again and both teams should have converted chances, the best of which fell to Portsmouth’s Chris Maguire whose touch around the keeper in a one-on-one took him too wide, giving Paul McShane time to get back and make an excellent goal line clearance.
Five minutes of added time were awarded, much to the crowd’s anger, who spent most of it whistling at the top of their voices. The referee finally blew his whistle, the final result Portsmouth 2 – 1 Crystal Palace. The game at Ashton Gate also remained 1 – 1, which means Portsmouth are still in contention for survival – mathematically at least.
Pompey must take all six points from their two remaining games against Derby County and Nottingham Forrest, whilst Bristol City must not take any more than one point from their remaining games against Barnsley and Burnley.
Speaking after the game Appleton that the survival place is Bristol City’s to throw away but if they do slip-up, he hopes his team will be snapping at their heals to steal their spot from them.